50 Ways to Improve Your Finances in 2011

These New Year’s resolutions will help you save, spend less, and earn more.

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30. Make a plan for paying off high-interest rate debt. If you carry any credit card debt, auto loans, or high-interest student loans, it's time to come up with a plan for paying them off. With interest rates on savings account so low, it often makes more sense to unload your expensive debt rather than continuing to make interest payments.


31. Run some numbers. Most people fail to calculate exactly how much they're on track to save, or how much they'll need, in retirement. Check out the retirement calculators available through your financial institution (Fidelity, T.D. Ameritrade, Transamerica, and T. Rowe Price have them, among others) or use free calculators from Bankrate.com. Experiment with different rates of returns, inflation rates, tax rates, and lifetime expectancy, since no one can predict those factors with any accuracy.

32. Ramp up your retirement savings by a few percentage points. Those calculations might convince you that you need to start saving more. To keep anxiety (and a major budget crunch) at bay, increase your savings in small increments. Start by upping your retirement account contribution 2 percent, and see if you can add another 2 percent in six months. Most people need to save about 15 percent of their salaries to be on track for a healthy retirement.

33. Consider opening up new tax-advantaged accounts. Make sure you know what tax-advantaged accounts are available to you. If you're currently not working, you might be eligible for a spousal IRA or Roth IRA. If you work full-time and have access to a 401(k), make sure you're taking full advantage of it. If your employer offers the relatively new Roth 401(k), which lets workers invest post-tax dollars into an account that will not be taxed again in the future, you might want to consider doing so.

[Visit the U.S. News Retirement site for more planning ideas and advice.]

34. Rebalance your retirement investments. If your investments have been battered by the stock market swings—and whose hasn't—it might be time to rebalance. For a quick evaluation, subtract your age from 100. That's roughly the percentage of your funds you should have in stocks, with the rest in more conservative investments such as bonds. If you're 40, that means you should have about 60 percent in stocks and 40 percent on bonds.

35. Check in with the Social Security Administration. Every year, wage earners receive a statement from the Social Security Administration, which provides a useful estimate of your future monthly benefits. It will help you determine how much you'll need to supplement with your own savings.

[See the 50 Best Careers of 2011.]


36. Invest in your career—even when you're being frugal everywhere else. Investing in a career coach or development course can help you snag a promotion, get "unstuck" from a career rut, or transition into your dream job. The price of one-on-one coaching typically starts at about $200 an hour, but less formal advice can come from meeting with more experienced colleagues over lunch or coffee.

37. Start earning extra money on the side. Many people don't realize they have valuable skills that other people are willing to pay for, such as a second language or even craft skills. To get ideas for how to earn extra money, check out the services section on Craigslist and see what people are advertising—editing, gardening, and event planning. Earning just a few hundred dollars a month can help get you back on your feet, plus you'll get valuable job experience and the possible start of a successful small business that you can continue to grow.

38. Launch your own business. Have you always dreamed of being your own boss? Make this the year you start taking small steps toward that goal. Decide what you can sell, buy your website address, and consider taking on a few clients.

39. Use social media tools to boost your career. Making connections on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn can enhance your overall profile in your field and strengthen connections that will come in handy when you're job-hunting. Many people err by not fleshing out their profile information on their social network accounts; start by adding more information about yourself, along with a photo.